Sen. Bill Nelson threatening congressional action if airlines fail to improve behavior

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) says Congress may have to enact an official passenger Bill of Rights.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) says Congress may have to enact an official passenger Bill of Rights.(GRAYDC)
Published: May. 10, 2017 at 3:56 PM EDT

Bad publicity keeps coming for the airline industry. Leaked videos from Fort Lauderdale, Florida Tuesday show passenger unrest after cancellations by Spirit Airlines. It’s the latest in a string of events showing fights and confrontations between passengers and airline employees. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) says this pattern of behavior is unacceptable.

“They are being treated as self-loading cargo,” said Nelson.

In recent weeks, a passenger was dragged off a United Airlines flight, flight attendants engaged in ugly confrontations with customers, and most recently Spirit Airlines canceled flights that lead to brawls. Nelson says something has to change.

“They’ve got to put the customer first. That’s the problem,” said Nelson. “They’re not considering the passenger as the number one priority.”

Nelson took to the Senate floor Tuesday to condemn the culture he sees in the airline industry.

“The airlines don’t want to hear this, but if they keep irritating people like they are, there’s going to be a revolt and people are going to demand this of the Congress,” said Nelson.

He says if behavior doesn’t improve, lawmakers will have to act, perhaps by instituting an official “passengers Bill of Rights.” Airline Weekly’s Seth Kaplan says these headline-grabbing videos have been serious setbacks for the industry.

“Statistically airlines are actually doing a pretty good job,” said Kaplan. “I mean, they’re more punctual than they’ve ever been. They’re losing fewer bags. They’re getting fewer customer complaints. The industry is the safest it’s ever been. And yet all of those facts sort of compete against those very extreme images.”

Kaplan says flying is frustrating for everyone involved, and airlines shouldn’t get all the blame.

“It comes down to just people just doing everything possible in an inherently stressful situation to understand each other,” said Kaplan.

Nelson says Congressional action against airlines could come soon as lawmakers prepare to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.